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Friday, 15 July 2016

nothing but salt and deserts

Next stop: Uyuni.
On my way to the bus station I shared a taxi with a couple from China and started a really interesting conversation with them. In fact, their whole live was interesting. Traveling for more than one year, they only had one backpack for the two of them (smaller than mine!) plus a bag for their camera gear. We eneded up taking the same bus to Uyuni, which ended up being a beautiful bus ride as the scenery together with the sunset was absolutely breath taking. Upon arrival in Uyuni we were bombarded by locals trying to sell us rooms but the couple seemed to have a plan and asked me if I'd join them. As it was dark and I had no idea what I was actually doing I was glad to just tag along and in the end even found myself a cheap, single room for the first time in weeks (:

We went on the hunt for dinner and then looked at some tours. They wanted to stay an extra day in Uyuni and I already knew, which company I was going to take as it had been recommended by a lot of people I met in La Paz and Sucre.

So the next morning, the day had finally come to drive through the famous salt flats. see some volcanoes and experience the desert. I was beyond excited.
Our group consisted out of two jeeps and the jeep that I was in held three absoluely hilarious asian girls from New York City (they couldn't go two hours without their hand sanitizers) Oliver from the Netherlands with a hilarious surname (Kok) and Byron from Australia. We had some fun times, especially as our conservations usually were about poop, stories about the boy's conquests on their travels and my veggie dish that consisted out of a huge avocado.

The first stop was a train cemetry, which was great to climb around on. Next we visited a little village outside of Uyuni that processed salt as they had more than enough and sold crafts. The whole village in fact was made out of salt - the accommodation for that night would be as well!

Finally we made it to the long awaited salt flats and nothing can really prepare you for that. When you're gliding along a white ground with nothing but more white salt in front of you, you feel as if you landed on a different planet. It was beautiful. And of course, that's where our photoshooting began. Our guide was an absolute pro so he constantly tried to get pictures of all of us and even wanted to keep going after we had more than enough. Posing on top of salt, which thousands of years ago used to be a lake is pretty damn cool

After a breathtaking sunset with out guide taking even MORE pictures of us we jumped back in our jeep and headed for our 'hotel' made completely of salt. It was definitely an experience for it itself to sleep on a bed made of salt, eat at a table and chairs of salt - pretty glad the toilet wasn't made of salt to be honest! Played some hilarious UNO rounds before passing out in our beds catching up on some sleep for the next early morning

Cause I'm writing this way too many days (weeks) after I'm not really sure what we visited next. I think we passed a huuuge field full of lamas and alpacas again, and as you do in the highlands, casually strolled through the herds whilst pink flamingos flew over our heads.

Something which us girls came to face a lot during those three days were the toilet situations. I think we became the absolute pros for finding perfect locations to peacefully and privately relieve oneself. The freezing wind hitting our cold butts though is still a problem to be solved (:

That same day we drove up a volcano and probably ended up at 5000mmsm with a beautiful view. Got to dance around some geysers (horrendous smell!) and were told that some Asian guy actually fell in one and died a horrible death.

That night we arrived at our 'basic' accommodation which basically means not heating and electricity for the most part. It was freeezing but what we were about to do after our dinner was probably one of the  best things of the whole trip. With wine and beer bottles in hand we marched down a completely d - keep in mind we were staying in the middle of nowhere, no lights anywhere and definitely no roads - until we somehow reached (after I ended up on my butt ) a small house next to a freaking natural hot spring. Quickly changing into our swimsuits we pretty much ran into the steaming hot water and it was an absolute dream. The cold air around you whilst you're sitting in warm water and gazing up to nearly blinding stars is something I'll never forget. I'll also never forget that night during which I thought I was going to die. As I said, no electricity or running water and Joelle's stomach was playing up like nothing. Won't go into too much detail but I was up pretty  much the whole night and didn't think I'd actually be able to survive the next few hours in the car if it wasn't for the amazing NYC girls that gave me some antibiotics. 

On the last day we drove through the desert, saw some beautiful lagunas and before I knew it, it was time to say goodbye to the squad as I was the only one from our jeep crossing the border and heading to Chile. Another 2-3 hours and a couple natural toilet spots later our new van finally arrived in San Pedro de Atacama and believe it or not it was finally warm again (18 degrees after too many days in the negatives seems like summer!) and I had wifi to inform everyone that I was still alive (:
Sunday, 26 June 2016

Beautiful bolivia

Being in Cusco for more than a week, having awesome yoga lessons and always running into familiar faces made it pretty damn hard to leave Peru behind, but I was in desperate need of a change of scenery. (Sorry for the long rant in advance)

 I pretty spontaneously decided to just book a bus to La Paz (and don't worry mom, I compared several companies - which by the way, they're all shit - and made sure there's actually more than one driver manouvering us to a new country) and soon enough I found myself at a pretty sketchy bus terminal with creepy dudes lingering in every corner. Yeah, I've been warned off taking night buses, but sometimes that's the only thing available and just oh so convenient. However, when it was time to 'board' and I saw the bus that was to safely bring my precious self to Bolivia I wasn't quite sure if I'd survive that trip. Next to my gate stood a wonderful, shiny double-decker bus with seats that looked unbelievably comfortable and it just made the bus I was about to board appear even worse than it actually was. Oh well, I didn't really have another choice so I threw myself in my pretty big seat right by the window and tried to prepare myself for a looong night. At first it wasn't too bad though. As the bus left quite late I was able to admire the stars while we drove threw some kind of valley, it was really stunning. I then tried to sleep but after a couple of hours my stomach wasn't having it any more, seemingly not agreeing with whatever I ate the day before. (Now, my stomach acting out whenever I'm about to embark on a long journey to a new location is about to become a thing) There was a bit of a problem, as the filthy toilet in the bus clearly stated 'solo urinario'. Yep, I was in a horrible situation, but let's just move on from that to the part where I was about to cross the border.

Some guys on the bus seemed to have missed their stop, which would have been BEFORE the bolivian border, so now they had to cross anyway, although that wasn't really where they had planned to go. The whole border-crossing situation was quite amusing. We all had to leave the bus to find the peruvian office to get stamped out of Peru. (it was all VERY confusing) Then we had to wait, along the huste and bustle of the Peruvians trying to sell their goods and they themselves waiting behind the gate with their wagons full of goods, whatever they might've been, to get to the bolivian side. It wasn't just our side however, that wanted to get to new soil, but the Bolivians aswell. So when the gates finally opened, you can probably imagine what happened. I literally felt as if I was in a war scene of a hollywood film. The people just threw themselves into the street, trying to cross as fast as possible without losing the content of their precious bags and wagons. It was pretty hilarious, the two countries appearing like war enemies going for each other. But in the end, everyone was somehow able to go their one path without more or less knocking eachother over. At that point, I still wasn't feeling a 100% yet, but it was pretty damn cool to see the 'Bienvenidos a Bolivia' sign.

Now I was to get stamped into another country, as on paper, I wasn't really anywhere, and continue the journey to La Paz. I didn't really know what to expect of the highest capital in the world. I read it was dangerous, not many people liked it and basically just worth to book tours from. However, the mix of everything you get there, views of even higher mountains, indigenous people next to the business kind - just the strange vibe I guess, kind of appealed to me. Although I have to say walking around the city was a workout in itself. 4000 meters above sea level and the hills in the city left me breathless a couple of times. Plus add creepy dudes in to the mix: (they're everywhere!) apparently when you wear dresses here unlike in Cuba where they try to get your attentiom like there's nothing more important in the world, here they just stare at you and if they're feeling extremely brave they try to touch your behind.
So not cool.

 In La Paz I stayed in a party party party hostel, it was pretty crazy. I'm not one to say no to a drink out but the people there basically just lived for that. I don't know how they did it though as hangovers at this altitude are just no fun, they kill you! However, sitting in the bar is just the best way to meet people and I've made some pretty great friends to be honest.

 The walking tour through the city was definitely one of the very best I've ever had. We were a huuuge group, some guys from the same hostel as I was and the guides were just freaking amazing. Showing us the prison, which in actual fact resembles a little town itself as the prisoners were allowed to have their family live with them, their own business and basically a life with nothing to complain about (police and staff in there is close to none-existant). Oh, and apparently during the day but mostly the nights, as the roof isn't really covered, you might get hit by dirty diapers or small packages containing drugs, nicely brewed inside the prison. And the police doesn't really care.

 As La Paz or Bolivia in general are unbelievably cheap and I was missing music soooo much, I decided to just go and by myself a Ukulele (already considered that in Cusco, but knew La Paz was the place for instruments!) Success! Although I didn't really get to play it right away ;)

The highlight in La Paz was most definitely the World's Most Dangerous Road, also known as Death Road (people actually still die on there today...) Wasn't sure at first if I should do it, but I mean when can you get to wear a full on Motorbike outfit for mountainbiking, swim in the jungle AND get a t-shirt solely as a proof that you survived the WMDR? Yeah, I wasn't going to miss out on that. So with the guys I met on the tour we went on a company hunt, based on cheap bikes and cool t-shirts (; in the end my german friend Nicole and I found one late at night and after a great conversation and dinner made our way back to the hostel to prep for the coming day.

 I have to admit, the Death Road wasn't as scary as I expected. We met up with our group, two great Aussi girls (who after the trip managed to convince me to go out although I had a deathly early flight to catch) and an Israeli guy, I swear they're everywhere! We got served breakfast on our highest starting point, somewhere between 4000-45000msl where our descent would begin. Put on our bad-ass gear, mounted the bikes and off we went down the highway to reach the Death Road. It was crazy how you went from freezing cold, with snow in the distance and in a matter of hours land in the humidity of the jungle. That's where the Death Road finally began. I could understand how people could die there as the side of the road basically just goes down into nothingness, but if you drive somewhat carefully there's nothing really to worry about. To be honest, I was kind of preoccupied with driving my bike and making sure a huge stone wouldn't cause me to fall than to see what was going on next to me. With muddy faces and a ton of pictures later we finally arrived, still alive (!) and were led to a beautiful hotel to rest, eat and jump into a swimming pool. It was pretty damn cool. And that same night of course, after I had packed I might add, I once again found myself ar the bar with the Aussi girls learning some strange Australian slang and drinking games, oh and met a swiss girl for the first time!

Sucre, the white city, was my next stop. A beautiful city where I stayed a lot longer than expected and kind of fell in love with. On arrival in a pretty fantastic hostel (they served pancakes for breakfast. That says it all) I even bumped into some guys I knew from Peru, which was pretty nice as they then showed me around town. The atmosphere there was just great, food pretty damn delicious (pretty much just ate papas rellenas every day) and I got to play my ukulele in the park where some street boys came up to me and cheekily asked if they could play or keep the ukulele to themselves. Well that wasn't happening.

In Sucre I met some great people. First of all, my roomie from Cuba happened to be there at the same time, my Spanish teacher was AMAZING, (lessons here are damn cheap) met a girl from La Paz again, great conversations and food discoveries with a Swedish girl (I had serious journal-envy - her traveljournal, although chaotic, was just so fun to read and her name was Agnes!) and great talks with a german couple, especially the girl named Lilia from Berlin, on my last night, who could have been my soulmate.

Oh yeah, and there was also the thing that happened with my hair. Cutting all my hair off had been playing in my mind for a couple of months now, but after traveling and the maintenance my hair requires, I just had enough of it. Imagine, getting up in the morning and not having to bother about your hair or waiting hours for it to dry in the freezing cold after a shower? Yep, it definitely had to go. Also, I feel like hair, long hair to be exact, has become such a superficial thing, defining me and other women and short hair not being feminine enough. Again, had some deep conversations about that, which made me even more sure of it. I just wanted to get rid of it, freeing myself of the burden and letting me define myself without my afro being in the picture. And I mean, it's just hair, hair that will grow again at some stage.

So I soon enough found myself a hairdresser and somehow managed to let her know in spanish to chop it all off. All the girls in the salon just gaped at me and kept telling me that, 'oh, your hair's so beautiful, it's a shame'. But that's exactly why it had to be done. When she did cut off my ponytail and I was left with a bob, I did however consider leaving it like that as it didn't look that bad. After 10 minutes though I changed my mind again and told the poor lady to chop it all off anyway. She didn't really do a good job of it though so after paying less than 5$, walking around for 30 minutes and repeatedly asking myself what the actual f**k I've done, I decided to head into a real Barberia with a big, round, bolivian Señora nicely shaping a men's hair. In that authorital way she just looked at me, told me to sit down and in a matter of minutes fixed me up nicely. Although old and using questionably ancient devices this lady definitely knew what she was doing. And here I know am, with a boy's haircut. Delightful.

Soon enough it was time for a change again. (Oh, also visited a huuuuge market in a tiny village on Sunday. Was great and got some souvenirs, you're very welcome, friends.) And the next stop would be Potosi, the highest city in the world. Yeah, at first I didn't feel a thing about said altitude, but at night whilst I was trying to find a place to eat I suddenly couldn't feel my right hand at all, same for my bottom lip and my vision started to get fuzzy. No fun at all. It was pretty scary so I decided to just sleep it off as in the morning I would be entering the silver mines. The mines were something else. After we put on our sexy gear it was time to buy the miners dynamite, coca leaves, juice and alcohol. 90% alcohol to be exact of which we all took a shot of before we went inside, that shit freaking buuurns! The mines weren't as scary as expected, yes, you can tell that if the slightest thing went wrong the whole construction would must collapss but I simply didn't think about that fact. At some times we were able to walk straight, but most of the time was spent hunched over, on our knees or crawling through small tunnels. Pretty adventurous experience, but I was glad to finally see sunlight after the last tunnel. To think that men, like the one who gave me some stones, illegally work there from the age of five or seven is insane. Once again so glad to have grown up in Switzerland, really can't complain!

Potosí itself was beautiful aswell, had a nice charm and even booked museum tours in Spanish (which I actually understood). Plus, I managed to have full on conversations with some guys in my dorm that were from Argentina, and those guys don't talk nice. The Spanish is finally coming along, muy bien (:

The last day in Potosí before I was off to Uyuni I just wandered around the city and found a deserted pizzeria to have some lunch before the ride. This guy enters, seemingly looking for a place to sit. I've got my wi-fi and food, so I'm not really up for conversation, trying to keep my head down, avoiding eye contact with the guy - just trying my best to not have to converse with another human being, as I am. That didn't last long though, because when I finally looked up he caught my eye and OF COURSE asked me if he could sit with me. Turned out to not be that bad though. After some cringy attempts in Spanish we changed to German as yet again, he turned out to be one those. And like myself he'd been traveling for several months, from South to North though. Something that really fascinated me was that he was a magician and he told me that by doing shows in hostels, they usually let him stay there for free. He somehow gathered that I liked my music myself (I have no idea how he did that) and encouraged me to try it. Apparently there's lots of musicians outthere that manage to travel that way. He even offered to just go out on the streets and start playing with me. I kind of chickened ot and realized my bus left soon, so hastily said my goodbyes. But it was definitely interesting, and something worth considering.

When traveling you meet people from all over the world, with different mindsets, cultures and ideas and it's freaking amazing to talk with them, share your experience and discuss different subjects. It's just great and so inspirational to meet and talk with like-minded people. Loving life (:

 Last part of the incredible bolivian adventure will follow soon, and until then

 Hasta luegoooo

Monday, 20 June 2016 Cusco, Perú

rainbow mountains, coca leaves and yoga

Finally back in Cusco, a beautiful town I fell for only a week ago I was able to just relax for once and not have a schedule for every single day. It was great to do whatever I wanted and I basically just roamed around the streets every single day I was there (ended up finding a Starbucks and bought a bigger daypack (; ) A friend of mine from Switzerland ended up being in Cusco at the same time as I was so we both knew we definitely had to meet up. I had heard of this great trek to Rainbow Mountain, which funnily, not a lot of people had heard of. Marlo seemed interested as well so I pretty spontaneously booked us a tour for the next day, which meant I had to get up at 3.00am. Here we go again. Prepared as I was, the night before I laid out everything for the following day and made sure I somehow got to bed at about 10pm. Set my alarm, as you do, and prepared myself for a short night.

3.20am, the lights suddenly on and someones hammering at our dorm door. All I hear is 'Joelle, Joellee!' and 'They're waiting for you!'
I can tell you, that is the absolute worst way to be woken up. You're happily snoring away and out of nowhere someone abruptly pulls you out of your dreams and reminds you that you're late. I was totally stressed out, my heart hammering in my chest as if I ran a marathon and never got ready as quickly as I did that morning. After hastily sending off a desperate text to Marlo stating I slept in as I stupidly set my alarm for 3pm instead of 3am (FACEPALM!), five minutes later I was out the door, running to our little van and sank into my seat, an absolute mess. Waking up that way just messes with your whole mind and body, you know you're late, everybody's waiting for you and all that happened at the most ungodly hour in the morning. At least I got in some hours of sleep (with a certain someone's head falling on my shoulder every so often) although the roads ended up getting bumpier and bumpier as we left civilization and our drivers felt the need to blast loud, obnoxious music the whole way. Breakfast was served by a local family in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. We were led in to this backyard where you found an open toilet, sheep stable and living space for some evil geese. After climbing up a ladder we found ourselves in a small dining room and for the first time saw the faces of our fellow men joining us on this trek. Wasn't really sure what we were served as it was undefinable, but this Australian guy spilled half his portion down my leg, so that's that. At least I felt warm for a couple of seconds before I started shivering again.

A baño stop and geese-evading later the van was ready to go again and we tackled the last part until we finally continued by foot. When we got there the view first of all was absolutely stunning. The sun hadn't completely risen yet so there was this great vibe going on and in the distance you could see some huuuuge snow covered mountain tops. About a hundred meters in front of us stood a herd of Lamas (or maybe Alpacas) led by beautifully clothed indigenous people wearing sandals made out of car wheels. It was absolutely freeeezing so I was stunned how those people wheathered this cold practically barefoot and then there was me wearing about three pairs of socks and five layers of clothing.

After getting set up and one guy buying a horse for his equipment and drone we began our ascent. Now, at first it was pretty managable (one british dude didn't seem to cope well with the altitude though - after huffing and puffing his way up for the first 100m he decided to get himself a sturdy horse as well), but our guide was practically running up that mountain, hardly making any stops and even nagging us to go faster and telling us that we had to move on. It was a bit disturbing especially as I'd been told that at this altitude you shouldn't overexert yourself and take it as slow as necessary. The asthma kicked in about halfway through and having to constantly change clothes when getting into the sun or shade didn't help either. It really did get pretty hard and I must say the Inca trail definitely was nothing compared to that. Maybe it was just me, or the altitude but I couldn't wait until I reached the top.

It was also quite a bit frustrating as one of the horses was led by a small boy who couldn't have been older than nine or ten and he was just striding up there as if he was walking at sea level and sometimes even had to pull or push the horse, without looking a tad exhausted. I did end up giving him one of my bananas at a small stop though, as up there it's pretty damn hard and expensive to get a hold of fruit. (got over my jealousy I guess)

The guide kept telling us, oh, it's right up there, only 30 more minutes. He ended up sayingt that about five times, so those minutes just kept adding up. Oh well, I was doing pretty okay when we walked a couple of kilometers on a more or less flat plane but the last part, which was just steep as hell, definitely took it out of me. Finally I saw some sort of rainbowy structures on the ground, which meant, it couldn't be that far anymore. And soon enough, we reached the base of Rainbow Mountain (also known as Vinicunca) and tried to catch our breaths.

The last and final part still was to reach the actual summit to see Vinicunca in its full glory and that's when my wellfare kind of went downhill. We were at about 5000meters above sea level and paired with wind as cold as ice constantly smacking you in your face you're bound to feel a tad wonky on your feet. So coca leaves it was again, and I think, they might've actually helped a lot! Got our signature photos in front of the mountain and the guy with the drone even took some sick shots of us from above and filmed chasing sheep up a hill. Pretty fantastic and I'll try to find his footage!

After a quick and well-deserved break we began our descent (of course took us a lot longer than what the guide told us) and finally got to eat lunch. The long bus drive back was basically us just passed out in the back and sitting in the traffic. At last we arrived back in Cusco where Marlo and I decided to get some delicious pizza as a reward for our strenuous but pretty damn cool trek.

I stayed in Cusco a lot longer than expected, trying to figure out wheather or not to head up north again to check out a few places or to just continue on to Bolivia. Next to planning I also explored the city some more and found some lovely little hidden alleyways, beautiful shops (spent way too much money), got a well-needed pedicure and found a great yoga studio! Probably was one of the best classes I ever took and the atmosphere there was just great. Although holding a pose at ca. 3000m above sea level is quite a bit more challenging than expected.

Found some great reastaurants, serving vegetarian/vegan food and even came across a delicious creperie, getting hungry as I'm typing this. Whilst exploring the enchanting San Blas area I also found myself at a tiny coca museum, which looked pretty interesting. Upon entering I was given a quick summary of coca history and what I could find in the museum and soon began my own tour. It was pretty damn interesting what this green, small leave of a coca can do and how far back in history it actually goes. What amazed me the most was the fact that it was (in some parts even still is) used in the production of Coca Cola - yep, that's where the name comes from. Lightbulb.

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